Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment


Mis­ery. Loss. A sense of fu­til­ity, as if noth­ing you ever do mat­ters, or ever will. I am talk­ing, of course, about videogames. Like many of you, I sus­pect, I’ve found games an es­sen­tial source of com­fort from the real world of late. We all play games to re­lax, and es­cape – or so we think. With the world out­side such a re­lent­less source of anx­i­ety and mis­ery, the games on my con­soles’ hard drives no longer feel like enough of a break from the norm. This is a mat­ter of set­ting, ad­mit­tedly –

The Last Of Us feels like a train­ing pro­gram these days – and also of tra­di­tion. Games be­gan in the ar­cades; de­signed not just to test re­flexes, but also empty wal­lets. At least modern games ease you in with tu­to­ri­als, mix up the pace a bit to let you catch your breath, and – in most cases, at least – do not base their de­sign on the need to make more money out of you. Yet still, stress, pain and the fear of loss are the bloody, beat­ing heart of al­most ev­ery game on the mar­ket.

Destiny is a cu­ri­ous case in point, be­cause 90 per cent of the time it’s one of the most re­lax­ing games I play. Power creep over the game’s life means I’m now over-lev­elled for most of Destiny’s ac­tiv­i­ties, and I can hap­pily spend an evening trot­ting around a mis­sion I know like the back of my hand, chat­ting to my pals. Bungie’s Luke Smith de­scribes

Destiny per­fectly as “the bar I can go to in my py­ja­mas and shoot the shit with my friends”. But ev­ery so of­ten some­thing comes along that wrenches you out of your com­fort zone, punches you in the face for four hours, and leaves you won­der­ing why you bother. This week it was a chal­lenge-mode spin on a raid boss fight that only re­quired a few tweaks to our nor­mal strat­egy, but in­volved hours of teeth-gnash­ing fail­ure. The easy har­mony of the nightly party chat strains as peo­ple start point­ing fin­gers, scape­goat­ing, the vol­ume lev­els ris­ing un­til peo­ple are shout­ing over each other just to be heard, none say­ing much of use. We’ve all had far too much of that lately.

The dif­fer­ence, and the rea­son games feel more im­por­tant to me than ever, is that through­out the count­less even­ings lost to fail­ure, as play­ers we know that we shall over­come. That prac­tice and team­work will de­liver us to vic­tory and sweet, sweet loot. This year, na­tion-defin­ing votes have been won on the ques­tion­able prom­ise of re­gain­ing con­trol – but in games, con­trol is the con­stant, the blame only ever your own, tri­umph only ever a mat­ter of per­sis­tence. In the real world, power is largely a myth. In games, we can all as­cend to the ranks of the one per cent.

Games also give us con­trol over the type of stress we sub­ject our­selves to, and how we choose to en­gage with it. A friend tells me that the Souls series’ PVP in­va­sions get his blood pump­ing and sphinc­ter clench­ing like noth­ing else in games; he wins more than he loses, but even when things aren’t go­ing his way he en­joys ev­ery sec­ond of a fight. Per­son­ally I find FromSoft­ware’s games op­pres­sive and in­tim­i­dat­ing enough as they are, thank you very much. Rather than set­ting my pulse rac­ing, the in­va­sion mes­sage in­vites in me a slump of the shoul­ders, a roll of the eyes and a sprint back to the near­est bon­fire, so that when death in­evitably comes I’ll only be a few steps from my blood­stain when I res­pawn. What can I say? Souls games bring out my in­ner wuss. I’d inch round real-world cor­ners with my shield up too, if I ac­tu­ally had one, and wasn’t wor­ried about look­ing weird.

Per­haps it’s not the case that games are es­capism, as such, but cathar­sis: the zom­bie mas­sacre un­wind­ing us from a dreary com­mute, a game of Street Fighter help­ing blow off steam af­ter work. Maybe we play them not to for­get our prob­lems, but to con­front and process them. If that’s the case then we need them more than ever – and within them I al­ready find new mean­ing.

Watch Dogs 2’ s por­trayal of mi­nor­ity youth be­trayed by the sys­tem de­signed to pro­tect them sud­denly feels per­fectly timed. In the mid­dle of an outer-space dog­fight in In­fi­nite

War­fare I find my­self trac­ing a nar­ra­tive line back to cur­rent events, and it no longer feels so much like science fic­tion. No doubt de­vel­op­ers and scriptwrit­ers will soon be­gin work on games that more lit­er­ally re­flect the cur­rent state of the world, but they don’t re­ally need to. The the­matic no­tion of a near­future dystopia, so beloved of peo­ple who make games, feels a whisker away from re­al­ity. You re­ally want to of­fer me es­capism? Give me a game where every­one’s nice.

I’d inch round real-world cor­ners with my shield up too, if I had one, and wasn’t wor­ried about look­ing weird

When he’s not in his gar­den mark­ing out the di­men­sions of an un­der­ground shel­ter, Nathan Brown is Edge’s deputy edi­tor

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